Netanyahu renews call for direct peace talks

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday renewed his call to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to hold direct peace talks and drop the Palestinians' bid for UN membership.

"He can come to Jerusalem, I could go to Ramallah or we could both go to Brussels," Netanyahu said after meeting in Jerusalem with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

Netanyahu's remarks came a day after Palestinian officials insisted they would not drop their bid for UN membership, despite reported attempts by Washington to draft a new peace talks proposal.

A statement issued by the prime minister's office said Netanyahu stressed the "supreme importance" of holding "direct negotiations with the Palestinians."

He added that "to his regret, the Palestinian leadership had chosen to refrain from direct dialogue, preferring instead to appeal to the UN, a move which will lead to deadlock," the statement said.

The Palestinians have insisted they will not scrap their bid for UN membership, even if a new peace proposal is floated, saying the UN move does not exclude the possibility of new talks.

Direct peace talks between the two sides have been on hold since last September when they ground to a halt shortly after commencing over the issue of Israeli settlement expansion.

Israel halted settlement construction in the West Bank, but did not renew the 10-month moratorium after it expired shortly after Washington restarted direct negotiations between the two sides.

The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Israel builds on land they want for a future state, and have called for clear parameters to be laid out before they enter any new talks.

© 2011 AFP

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